Sturgis can definitely be overwhelming for a first-time visitor! The streets are lined with bikes, people are dressed very strangely (or not at all), and prices throughout the area are jacked up for the Black Hill’s craziest week of the year.
It is the world’s largest motorcycle rally and attracts about 500,000 people in a normal year. The town of Sturgis has only 7,000 residents, and some stores are only open for rally week in early August! The city of Sturgis has a “Rally & Events Department” to help visitors and vendors during the week. About $800 million is brought to South Dakota annually from the rally.
The first Sturgis rally was held in 1938 and was called the Black Hills Classic. It was held by the Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club and attracted nine racers and a small audience. Year after year, the rally attracted more people.
In 1949, for the first time, Sturgis Main Street was blocked off for an awards ceremony. It has been held every year since its beginning in 1938, with the exception of two years during World War II due to gasoline rationing. The 75th anniversary in 2015, attracted a record number of attendants at 739,000. That is only about 100,000 less than the population of the entire state! Needless to say, the Black Hills get a little crowded during the rally. Every gas station, restaurant, and hotel within dozens of miles from Sturgis will be filled with event attendees.
Be safe & smart
Every year, a number of Sturgis visitors get seriously injured or killed. In the 2015 rally for example, 15 people died. Many of these fatalities were from motorcycle accidents in which the rider was not wearing a helmet. Make sure to always ride with a helmet, do not drive when intoxicated, and watch out for deer and other wildlife when driving through the countryside — especially at night.
Police are watching
Police are on red alert during Sturgis. The 2016 rally ended up with a total of 124 parking citations, 152 traffic arrests, and 172 non traffic arrests. Don’t go over the speed limit, especially when in the main area of Sturgis where speed limits are very low. A common citation during the rally is illegal parking.
Public intoxication and open container calls are also common during Sturgis. Make sure to drink only in bars to avoid a hefty ticket.
Save money wherever possible
If you are not careful with money, the rally will cost an arm and a leg. Save money by getting groceries instead of eating out every meal and camp, or stay in a hotel outside of Sturgis like Rapid City, Whitewood, Spearfish, and Deadwood.
Crowds are here
Sturgis is a crazy party for bikers and tourists. There are hundreds of vendors and hundreds of thousands of people. Be prepared for the crowds and be prepared to walk a decent ways to your destination from your parking spot. All attractions in the Black Hills will have more visitors than usual. Drive very defensively during this week as some visiting motorcyclists are beginners.
Try to make hotel reservations several months in advance.
Experience the real Black Hills
Outside of Sturgis, there are beautiful hiking trails, impressive national monuments, huge caves, and unique wildlife. Take a few days to enjoy the beauty of the Black Hills. Need some ideas where to go? Check out our favorite spots here.
By Kelsey Sinclair